DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrians began voting on Tuesday in an election expected to deliver an overwhelming victory to President Bashar al-Assad in the midst of a civil war that has fractured the country and killed more than 160,000 people.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in parts of Syria under Assad's government control.
"We hope for security and stability," said Hussam al-Din al Aws, an Arabic teacher who was the first person to vote at one polling station at a Damascus secondary school. Asked who would win, he responded: "God willing, President Bashar al-Assad."
Assad is running against two relatively unknown challengers who were approved by parliament to participate in the election, which his international opponents have dismissed as a sham.
The election is taking place more than three years after protests first broke out in Syria, calling for reform after four decades of Assad family rule. Authorities responded with force and the uprising descended into civil war.
Assad's forces, backed by allies including Iran and Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah, have consolidated their control in central Syria but the rebels and foreign jihadi fighters hold vast areas of northern and eastern Syria.
Reporting by Marwan Makdesi; Editing by Matt Driskill and Jeremy Laurence